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Pediatrician: Talk with your kids about COVID-19

Providing kids with good information, being honest and basing what is shared on the child’s ability to handle what is being explained are good ways to talk about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, according to Dr. David Schneider, the associate medical director at Community Health Pediatrics.

While some parents may want to restrict what their children know about the pandemic because of the child’s age, there have been school closures as a result. This could lead to children having questions and fears, but Schneider said parents should be aware of the nature of the 21st-century world.

“Actually, children at a rather young age right now are all aware that coronavirus exists. Conversation about coronavirus is ubiquitous. You cannot change a TV station without hearing or seeing (something) about it. You can pretty much bet parents are speaking about it, one way or another, and there’s just no question that children of any age are getting some sort of information about it,” he said.

The assumption that a child is not totally ignorant about the subject informs Schneider’s advice on the best way to talk to children about an intimidating subject like a serious disease.

“To rephrase it, I think the best way at any time to talk to a child is not to talk to a child but talk with a child. I’d say the first step no matter any age would be, first, to listen to the child and understand exactly what they know at this point, so you have a starting point. Interestingly, some of the older kids might know more than the parents,” he said.

Schneider recommended several sources for the most accurate information, including, a website for parents, the Community Health website at, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at

The state of Vermont’s health department is also maintaining a site dedicated to the virus at

Parents or other family members should be mindful of the child’s age and maturity.

“The amount of information you give a 5-year-old is certainly going to be much different than the information you’re going to give an 18-year-old in an AP biology class, for example,” he said.

One way to simplify the explanation is to tell the child that the coronavirus is from the “same kind of virus that’s spread the same kind of way that a cold is spread,” Schneider said.

“Even young children in school realize that when one child in school has a cold, before they know it, most the kids at school have a cold,” he said.

But explaining the novel coronavirus and the common cold share similarities may lead some kids to wonder why one is considered an annoyance and one results in closing the school, Schneider acknowledged.

“I think a good answer to that might be, to help protect the community for members of our community where coronavirus may not act like a cold, where some people who have different illnesses who are not as healthy as a child might be could catch that (COVID-19) from a child or a teacher. By limiting the number of crowded places such as schools that people go to, we’re actually helping our whole community and helping to protect our grandparents, perhaps,” he said.

Explaining that connection can give children the understanding that they’re helping by not going to school and by properly washing their hands or covering a cough. Schneider said it’s important for children to feel ownership in the response to coronavirus.

Honesty is “critically” important, Schneider added, along with reassurances so the child feels safe, which can be supported by maintaining a regular schedule including child play.

“Keep going back to your child and asking them ‘Are you OK now?’ or ‘Do you have any more questions?’ … Very often children are not talking, but you’re seeing other behaviors that might demonstrate some anxiety. They’re not eating as well (as normal), they’re not sleeping as well, for example. That should be on a parent’s radar, that they approach their child and again start from rule one. Ask them,” he said.

Sometimes a child isn’t ready to talk, so Schneider said it might be necessary to approach the child again after some time has passed.

“Most parents know how to talk to their children,” he said.

Schneider advised parents to limit their children’s exposure to partisan programs or websites that suggest one political party or another is responsible for the spread of coronavirus.

“It’s very important for parents to understand and for children to understand that viruses have always been around. They will always be around, and they are pretty much always worldwide. There’s no blaming of anybody. It would be the equivalent of us blaming New Hampshire for the sunrise,” he said.

Community Health is Vermont’s largest FQHC (Federally Qualified Health Center), a network of primary care, pediatric, behavioral health and dental services with offices in Rutland, Brandon, Castleton, West Pawlet and Shoreham. Community Dental offices are located in Rutland and Shoreham, Community Health Pediatrics is in Rutland and Behavioral Health services are available at all of our locations. Community Health Express Care centers, open 7 days a week, are located at the Rutland and Castleton Community Health Centers.

The mission of Community Health (Community Health Centers of the Rutland Region) is to improve the health and wellness of all people in the communities we serve by providing access to excellent medical and dental primary care regardless of any financial consideration.

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